Articles Posted in Vermont Supreme Court

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Cheryl Brown and Matthew Denis were involved in a traffic accident, when Denis’s truck bumped into Brown’s car from behind. Denis claimed the accident happened when he inadvertently took his foot off the brake as he turned to roll the rear window down to provide fresh air to his dog, who was riding in the back seat. Denis’s truck, which was positioned behind Brown’s car, rolled forward five to six feet, striking her rear bumper. The collision took place in stop-and-go traffic. Denis, a sergeant with the Vermont State Police, estimated his speed at impact to be two miles per hour and did not believe there was any damage caused to Brown’s vehicle from the collision. Brown claimed the impact caused a scratch on her rear bumper. The truck Denis was driving did not have any markings indicating it was a police vehicle. Brown filed suit against the State of Vermont alleging it was responsible for injuries she sustained in the accident due to Denis’s negligence. Brown also raised constitutional claims, alleging: (1) due process and equality of treatment violations under the Vermont Constitution’s Common Benefits Clause, and (2) an equal protection, and possibly a due process, claim under the United States Constitution. Brown did not name Denis as a defendant in her suit. Brown’s constitutional claims were based on her assertion that Denis received favorable treatment because he was not prosecuted for causing the accident or leaving the scene without providing identifying information. Before trial, the court dismissed the due process and equal protection claims under the United States Constitution on the basis that Brown had only sued the State, and not Denis personally, and that the State was not a “person” for claims arising under 42 U.S.C. 1983. The court further ruled that Brown lacked standing to assert any claim based on the State’s failure to prosecute Denis. The court also dismissed the Common Benefits Clause claim because Brown lacked any cognizable interest in the prosecution or discipline of Denis. Lastly, the court held that, to the extent a due process claim had been raised, it was undisputed that Brown received the information required to be exchanged in the event of a car collision shortly after the accident, and her ability to file suit against the State as a result of the accident showed her due process rights were not impeded. On appeal, Brown alleged several errors in pre-trial and trial rulings, as well as in the failure to grant her a new trial. Finding no reversible error, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed. View "Brown v. Vermont" on Justia Law

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The Vermont Human Rights Commission and three female employees of the Vermont Department of Corrections (DOC) filed suit against the State (the DOC and the Vermont Department of Human Resources (DHR)) claiming that the DOC violated the Vermont Fair Employment Practices Act (VFEPA) by paying a male employee in the same position as the female plaintiffs as much as $10,000 more annually without a legally defensible, gender-neutral reason. The trial court granted summary judgment to the State, concluding that although plaintiffs established a prima facie case, the undisputed facts established that the wage disparity was due to legitimate business reasons and not gender-based. After review, the Supreme Court found no reversible error and affirmed dismissal of plaintiffs' case. View "Vermont Human Rights Comm'n v. Vermont" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Daniel Brown appealed a superior court decision granting summary judgment to the State on his claim of employment discrimination in violation of the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act. He argued that summary judgment was improper because genuine material issues of fact remained as to whether his membership in the Vermont National Guard was a motivating factor in the State's decisions not to promote him, and ultimately to terminate him from his position. Finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Brown v. Vermont" on Justia Law

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The issue before the Supreme Court in this case was whether the constitutional rights of a putative biological father who seeks an order of parentage when a court has already issued a parentage order determining the minor child's parents. Upon review, the Supreme Court concluded that Vermont's parentage statute does not authorize a court to allow a second parentage action involving a particular child brought by or against a different putative parent unless constitutional considerations require the court to entertain the second parentage case. In this case, even if plaintiff was the genetic parent of the minor child, he did not have constitutionally-protected parental rights. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the trial court's decision denying plaintiff's motion for genetic testing and dismissed his complaint for establishment of parentage. View "Columbia v. Lawton" on Justia Law

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Applicant Marilyn Clifford appealed the denial of long-term home-care benefits under the Medicaid-funded Choices for Care program, arguing that a second home on an adjacent piece of property should have been excluded from the financial-eligibility calculation. Given the language of the regulation, the legislative history that led to its promulgation, and the policy considerations attending the Medicaid program, the Supreme Court concluded that the Secretary correctly interpreted the home-exclusion rule when he reinstated the determination of the Department of Children and Families denying the benefits. Thus, the Court found no compelling indication of error in the Secretary’s determination and affirmed. View "In re Marilyn Clifford" on Justia Law

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The State of Vermont appealed a trial court's dismissal of a civil driver's license suspension complaint.  The trial court found that the statutory requirements for civil suspension had not been met. Upon review, the Supreme Court affirmed the trial court, finding that indeed, the statutory requirements for civil suspension had not been met. View "Vermont v. Spooner" on Justia Law

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Kayla Eaton's lawsuit against her former employer and supervisor for sexual assault was dismissed for failure to prosecute. She claimed that her ability to prosecute the case was thwarted by a licensed polygraph examiner, Leroy Prior, who determined that she did not tell the truth in responding to questions about the alleged assault. Ms. Eaton and her father Robert Eaton filed this action against Prior, claiming negligent administration of the polygraph examination, and against the Vermont State Police and Lt. Matthew Belmay, alleging that they improperly disclosed the examination results and conspired to cover up Prior's misconduct. The trial court entered judgment for defendants on the ground that the suit was barred by the three-year statute of limitations applicable to actions for "injuries to the person," under 12 V.S.A. 512(4), and the Eatons appealed. Upon review, the Supreme Court concluded that the trial court correctly concluded the statute of limitations applied to this case, however, the court mistakenly failed to consider the applicability of 12 V.S.A. 511's general six-year limitation period to the claims for economic harm resulting from dismissal of the underlying lawsuit and other alleged economic costs.  Accordingly, the Court affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded the case for further proceedings.

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Plaintiff Frank Hall, a longtime employee of the Agency of Transportation (AOT), sued the agency in 2007, alleging discrimination on the basis of a physical disability and retaliation for his having filed a workers' compensation claim. The jury found no disability discrimination, but awarded Plaintiff damages based upon its finding that the State had retaliated against him as alleged. On appeal, the State argued that: (1) Plaintiff's retaliation claim was precluded by a September 2003 Stipulation and Agreement signed by Plaintiff and AOT releasing the State from liability for any and all claims associated in any way with Plaintiff's reclassification and transfer stemming from hostile work environment allegations against him; (2) Plaintiff's retaliation claim was not supported by any causal connection linking his employment reclassification and transfer with his having filed a workers' compensation claim; (3) evidence of a video surveillance of Plaintiff connected with a second workers' compensation claim was insufficient as a matter of law to support his retaliation claim and the resulting damages award; and (4) even if the record supported his retaliation claim, the State's liability is limited to $250,000, as set forth in Vermont's Tort Claims Act during the relevant time period. Plaintiff cross-appealed, challenging the trial court's denial of his request for post-judgment interest and attorney's fees. Upon review, the Supreme Court vacated the judgment against the State and remanded the matter for the trial court to rule on the potentially determinative issue of the scope of the September 2003 release.

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Plaintiffs Vermont Human Rights Commission (HRC) and Ursula Stanley, an employee of the State Agency of Transportation, appealed the Washington Civil Division's decision to grant the State's motion to dismiss her complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Ms. Stanley complained that, under the Vermont Parental and Family Leave Act (VPFLA), 21 V.S.A. 472(c), which requires continuation of certain "employment benefits" during family leave, she was entitled to accrue, but was denied, paid vacation and sick time during the course of an unpaid parental leave. The trial court held that under section 472(c) an employee does not continue earning paid leave during unpaid parental leave. Upon review, the Supreme Court affirmed the trial court's decision to dismiss, finding that sections 472(a) and (b) of the VPFLA point to why the accrual of paid time-off and sick time are not benefits that employers must provide during unpaid leave. Section 472(a) states that an employee is "entitled to take unpaid leave." However, the statute permits employees to use already "accrued paid leave," such as vacation or sick leave, during parental leave. As the trial court noted, if an employee could demand accrual of paid leave from an employer under the VPFLA while on family leave, it must follow that at least a portion of the parental leave would be rendered paid leave, "a result not just inconsistent with, but contrary to, the employer's VPFLA obligation to provide unpaid parental leave only."

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Plaintiffs Russell and Mary Ann Rueger and John Moyers appealed a trial courts grant of summary judgment in favor of Defendants Natural Resources Board and the District #9 Environmental Commission of Vermont. The matter arose from an Access to Public Records Act request. The court concluded that certain records held by Defendants reflected deliberations of an agency acting in a quasi-judicial role, and those were exempt from disclosure. Plaintiffs argued on appeal that the court erred in interpreting the Act. Upon review, the Supreme Court agreed with the trial court that the documents in question fell within the plain language of the Act, and were indeed exempt. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the grant of summary judgment in favor of Defendants.